Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tornado Near Mt. Evans, CO on 7/28/12 a New Record High Elevation?

A tornado touched down close to Lincoln Lake near Mt. Evans, CO on Saturday afternoon, July 28, 2012. Mt. Evans is located in the Arapaho National Forest and is about halfway between Breckenridge and Denver.  The elevation at the summit is 12,500 feet above sea level.

The following photo was posted on twitter by John Hallan, but it does not say who shot the photo.  The tornado was quite picturesque, and looks somewhat like a waterspout in the photo:

Here's another photo, this one taken by Trish and Dan Ferguson:

...and another by Karen Goodwin:

Some additional photos of the tornado, taken by Chris Kirby (and at a much closer vantage point), can be found on his flickr stream.  On a related twitter post, he commented that the outside temperature was 40 degrees F at the time the tornado took place.

The preliminary local storm report for this event is shown below:

While the storm report doesn't hint at this, if the 12,500 foot elevation stands, I believe that the tornado will go down in the record books as the highest known elevation tornado in the U.S.  The previous highest elevation tornado took place at Rockwell Pass, California on July 7, 2004.  The elevation of the pass is 11,600 feet, and it is estimated that the base of the tornado was at approximately 12,000 feet.

If the 12,500 foot elevation of yesterday's Mt. Evans tornado stands, then it should take the record.  I'm awaiting "official" comment from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder, and will post that as soon as it becomes available.

***Update 7/29/12, 5pm:  The NWS in Boulder has not issued a revised or updated storm report or "public information statement" on the tornado, however a recent posting on their facebook page states that they used the photographer's position and extrapolated via Google Earth that the elevation of the base of the tornado was approximately 11,900 feet.  This would make it 100 feet short of the old record referenced above.  So, at the moment, the Rockwell Pass tornado record stands.

I have some personal reservations about a 100 foot difference being calculated via Google Earth, but "it is what it is..." I suppose.  I don't know exactly how the Rockwell Pass elevation was calculated back in 2004, as the available documentation states that they "estimated that the base of the tornado was at approximately 12,000 feet" so I think its safe to say both of these tornadoes were very, very close to one another insofar as elevation is concerned.

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Dan Ferguson said...

I took one of the pictures posted on this site for the Mt. Evans Tornado. The Tornado was between Mt Evans and Mt Warren which puts the base at no less than 12500 feet. My photo was taken at 39.587269, -105.635355 looking north west.

Dan Ferguson

Rob White said...


Thanks for the note, and I love the shot, it is awesome!

Did anyone at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder contact you (or did you contact them) regarding your observation of the tornado?

I agree with you in that I believe there is a strong possibility that the tornado took place at a higher elevation than what has been estimated so far.

According to this posting on their facebook page, the NWS is estimating that the touchdown was 1.75 miles Northeast of the Mt. Evans summit, and they used the elevation of that location on Google Earth to arrive at the 11,900 elevation.

Their phone number is 303-494-4221. If you feel that there is information you could provide to improve on the recording of this event, I highly encourage you to get in contact with them.

Thanks for the comment/info, and please do let me know if I can be of any further help or if you get any feedback from the NWS.


Rob White said...

Sorry, the hyperlink to the facebook post that I referenced in the last comment didn't post the first time. Here it is:

NWS Boulder Facebook Post